Thursday, June 17, 2010

Main Street Stories: Rollin Sprague Stone Store

The Rollin Sprague Stone Store at 300 S. Main Street, built in 1849, is the oldest commercial building in the city of Rochester, and is one of our community's greatest historical treasures. Thanks to a recently rediscovered tin type image of the building, shown here courtesy of the Melanie and Janet Swords Family Archive and with their generous permission, we have wonderful photographic evidence of the building's use and appearance about 1878.

Dr. Rollin Sprague ran the business as a grocery and general store until his death in 1872, and then his widow, Adaline L. Cooper Sprague, continued to operate it on her own until at least 1875. An 1875 Michigan gazetteer lists Adaline Sprague as the proprietor of the store, but the 1877 directory lists the business as Barnes & Goodison, the name seen in this tin type image. According to an 1891 history of Oakland County, partners William H. Barnes and Samuel C. Goodison started out as grocers, but "in 1878 added a stock of clothing, and subsequently one of boots and shoes, hats, caps and gents' furnishing goods."

The exact date that the Barnes & Goodison partnership ended is unknown. Samuel Goodison died in 1897, and Anna Barnes Goodison, his widow, continued to operate the store on her own until at least 1904. Later occupants of the Rollin Sprague building included the Frantz Cafe in 1925, a Hudson-Essex automobile dealership in 1929, and the Oakland Dairy in the 1930s. By 1949, the building housed Mac's Bakery, and by 1953, it was known as the Home Bakery.

The Rollin Sprague Stone Store is noteworthy for its coursed cobblestone construction, a technique not well known in Michigan at the time. An article published in the Rochester Clarion on May 18, 1923 gave the history of the Sprague family in Rochester and had this to say about the construction of the store:
Another memorial [to the family] is the stone store at the corner of Main and Third streets. This was erected seventy years ago at least and was occupied by the doctor as a sort of general store, wherein drugs, groceries, dry goods, etc., were handled. The structure itself is a wonder in some particulars and especially in view of the fact that it has withstood the wear of all these years and is today intact so far as the walls are concerned. Of course, this was built before cement was thought of as a possibility in this section. Quick lime was used, the cobblestone selected from the farm on the South Hill and the walls laid by an Englishman by the name of Thomas Anskom. Accounting for its solidity at this time, builders are inclined to think he must have had some process now unknown in the use of lime.
In the summer and fall of 1899, the stone store was remodeled. A new plate glass window was installed in front, and an ornate cornice was added to crown the building. In 1995, the storefront was restored to its appearance at the time of the 1899 renovation, which is why the 1899 date appears on the front of the building today.

The Rollin Sprague Stone Store was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1999, and celebrates its 161st birthday this year.

This image is provided courtesy of the Melanie and Janet Swords Family Archive and is used here with their permission.

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